An estimated 2.1 billion people worldwide lack access to clean water . Whether in remote international communities or urban and rural U.S. neighborhoods, the inability to attain this basic human need is one of the greatest tragedies of our day. Aware of this broken reality, the faithful of Lower Providence and First Presbyterian Church in Ambler have each partnered with Living Waters for the World, a ministry of the PCUSA’s Synod of Living Waters, to provide filtration systems alongside congregations in developing nations.
Since 2008, Lower Providence Presbyterian Church (LPPC) has collaborated with Living Waters to install nine total systems in Kenya, India, and Cuba. This ministry partnership began when Kary and Nanette LaFors, members of the LPPC Serving Committee, prayerfully walked alongside the leadership of their congregation and discerned a call to live into biblical story of God’s reconciliation of both people and land. “It’s a relational ministry, which drew me to it, because it talks about reconciliation,” remarked Nanette LaFors. “God made the world good and he wants us to have a good life. That is a part of it- we want to restore [human life and creation] to being good.” After attending Clean Water U, an exploratory training program offered by Living Waters and initially funded through grants of the Presbyterian Women, they identified partners in international congregations and linked ecumenical arms with churches from Washington to Conshohocken to work towards God’s mission of reconciliation.
As Lower Providence has equipped their leaders and empowered international hosts to maintain and freely distribute this newly-purified water, the health of individuals and local relationships have been transformed. Even more, violence and crime, some that targeted the church, has been reduced. Kary LaFors recalled stories shared when they returned to their partner congregation in Holguin, Cuba following a 2017 hurricane, “After the clean water systems were installed, nobody was throwing rocks at the church, people from the community- not members of the congregation- come and help and clean up around the church, and the crime rates dropped.” This is a testament to the kind of reconciliation that can occur when God’s people intercede on behalf of those who lack access to a vital necessity for human life and flourishing.
In addition to Lower Providence, the First Presbyterian Church of Ambler has also leveraged a new Living Waters partnership in Haiti. After a 2016 Lenten book study, The Hole in Our Gospel, the Ambler Church earmarked for this initiative the balance of their capital campaign and was awarded a Covenant Fund through the Presbytery. Since then, they have sent and provided supplemental funding for 25 members to install and manage their first filtration system alongside Haitian neighbors. A representation of the church will return for a second install in May of this year. “You look at all the social and cultural issues in Haiti and they are hard to address,” remarked Rev. Ryan Balsan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ambler. “But when you go there, work with Haitian people, and you address the needs in a particular community, you find that you are part of the answer. I believe it is part of God’s answer to the brokenness of the world.”
While tempting for congregations to reduce mission to international, short-term experiences, the Living Waters partnerships of these two congregations has also had a reverse impact. Their intentional collaborations have empowered church members to engage their immediate contexts with intentional embodiments of the gospel. Whether through collaborations with interfaith networks to combat local poverty or the purchase and rehabilitation of homes that benefit families in economic transitions, these congregations are tirelessly working to address the needs of their near and distant neighbors. This is what Rev. Balsan refers to as a positive missional feedback loop, “[By] responding to God’s call to respond to the needs of people throughout the world, our eyes have been opened not only to the needs there, but also the needs here.” The same holds true for the saints of Lower Providence. “Mission has been an incredible unifying force in who we are as people of faith. That has been critical,” said Rev. Ted Mingle, pastor of Lower Providence Presbyterian Church. “We come together through mission through Jesus Christ in reaching our local community and our global community.”
As churches from around our Presbytery continue to discern God’s call to participate in the reconciliation of the world, we give thanks for the local and international witness of First Presbyterian Church of Ambler and Lower Providence Presbyterian Church. Their collective efforts to provide vulnerable communities access to clean water are glimpses into what is possible when we live into our discipleship as followers of Jesus, who is the Living Water of both body and spirit.
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